Monday, April 6, 2009

Does the Treasury Department need a Rustbelt Intellectual?

The demands of the new quarter require this post to be brief, but I wanted to highlight what I think are some interesting and important dilemmas faced by the Obama administration in the current economic crisis.   

Two main observations:  1)  America appears to be experiencing the first significant wave of economic populism in many decades; 2)  Obama's Treasury Department policymakers and staff of economic advisers appear to be unaware of this or to understand what it means (see Tom's post of February 10).  

A series of Frank Rich columns in the New York Times over the past several weeks brilliantly exposed this political blindness or insensitivity.  And the Times is still hammering home the basic point--a story from yesterday showed the troubling ties that Lawrence Summers (never known for his political acumen) has to hedge funds. 

Watching the political missteps leads me to believe that the Obama administration needs a Rustbelt Intellectual at Treasury or on the staff of economic advisers.  I use that term to refer to the spirit of this blog's many posts and reader comments--as a shorthand to mean only that the administration economic policy needs a voice from someone---anyone--who can truly empathize with the common American, with the working and middle classes.  

Yet the story on Summers indicates the difficulties that Obama faces in balancing politics and policy.  How can we reconcile the interests and concerns of the common American with the arcane world of 21st-century finance?  

Given the highly technical nature of our current financial crisis, does Obama have any other choice than to hand over the keys to the policymaking to folks who presided over and arguably contributed to the crash?  Would providing a seat at the table for a spokesperson for the middle and working classes simply put that person in over their head?  Are the concerns of working families hopelessly naive and likely to worsen the crisis if made a driving force in policy?  In other words, would a Rustbelt Intellectual just mess everything up?  

In the short term, it appears that handing economic policy over to technocrats is politically risky.  In the long term, it may be our only option:  Americans may just have to hold their noses and hope the Wall Street tycoons both in the Obama administration and on Wall Street can save the nation. 




5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would a person who could speak on behalf of people who work for wages necessarily be in over his or head in dealing with Obama's current economic team? I don't want to hold my nose and hope that the solutions being proposed by Geithner, Summers et al. will work. If these folks actually knew what they were doing then why are we in that mess that we're in?

Paz said...

It's got to be an intellectual who speaks with the conscience of a Rust Belt denizen but the lexicon of a beltway insider. I think Ed Montgomery will be that man.

Anonymous said...

If the Rust Belt denizen spoke in the lexicon of a Beltway insider then that person would not be a Rust Belt denizen. The way in which Geithner, Summers et al. talk about problems is in a language that is designed to hide their and never reveal their true aims as opposed to their declared aims.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Well, we do have Dean Montgomery, who I see as the "misery czar," holding our hands while the region sinks further and further.

I was really hopeful about Obama, but the Geithner/Summers cabal has sold his administration to Wall Street before he could even buy a dog.

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